IDEA Wild Proposal

Project: Biodiversity Education in Rural Communities in Nicaragua

Las Isla de Ometepe is a 272 km2 island within Lake Nicaragua. The island consists of two volcanoes: the active Volcán Concepción (1611m), and the inactive Volcán Maderas (1345m), which is in the process of becoming a national park. The human population of the island is approximately 35,000, with most inhabitants living in rural areas. Sixty percent of the population is under the age of 16. Although access to schools and education is widely available, there is a lack of biodiversity education in rural communities. As a result of this lack of education, people often perceive wildlife (including monkeys and birds) as pets. In addition to taking wild animals into their own households as pets, wild animals are often traded illegally in international pet export. Children are also commonly seen shooting at birds and monkeys with slingshots, sometimes even killing them. These factors are hugely detrimental to wild populations of animals on the island, and an educational program emphasizing conservation is vital to the sustainability of biodiversity on La Isla de Ometepe.

The Fundación Ometepe is a local non-profit organization that works in conservation and education and rural development of the island. In the summer of 2007, the Fundación Ometepe also started a small, free, English-language school in the rural community of Mérida, located on the southwestern side of the island beneath the majestic Volcán Maderas. The kids attend this before and after-school program on their own initiative in addition to their five-hour days at the public school. In order to address the critical problem of the lack of environmental education for children on La Isla de Ometepe, the Fundación Ometepe teamed up with the Smithsonian Institution Migratory Bird Center (Mary Deinlein, National Zoo) and participated in its Migratory Bird Project: Bridging the Americas. This project teaches schoolchildren of both Nicaragua and the United States about the behavior of migrant birds that travel between the two countries. Funding from the Fundación Ometepe enables Nicaraguan schoolchildren to visit the diverse habitats of the island and learn about the behaviors of the migrant birds that spend half the year in the United States and half the year in Nicaragua. One pair of Eagle Optics 8x42 Ranger SRT Binoculars is requested for students to use for wildlife observations. The requested binoculars will allow children to make more precise and vivid observations of the wildlife. These experiences nurture in the children an awareness of the natural beauty in their home country, and a culture of environmental appreciation and protection. This equipment will enable Nicaraguan students to observe the biodiversity in their own communities. More importantly, the project supports the active exchange of ideas and personal experiences between schoolchildren in the United States and Nicaragua. A wireless high-speed internet connection which has recently become available on the island increases the communication between the migratory bird partner schools in Washington/Maryland area of the United States and the local Nicaraguan classrooms participating in the project. Two laptop computers are requested as well for use in creating projects and presentations and exchanging information. Nicaraguan students will exchange their presentations with U.S. students via teleconferences with partner schools in the U.S. This exchange not only allows the Nicaraguan students to exchange vital information regarding the biodiversity of their environment, but also allows the students an opportunity to practice their English. Similarly, the U.S. students benefit from the exchange of cultural and environmental information.

In addition to strengthening the migratory bird project, the Fundación Ometepe will use the equipment requested from Idea Wild to promote the conservation of wild primates. Students will first study an electronic children's book entitled Howler's Journey, by Katie McCulloch that is available in both Spanish and English. Then students will be led on supervised fieldtrips and use the binoculars to observe Nicaraguan mantled howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata). Understanding the importance of conserving mantled howler monkeys is vital to the preservation of the overall biodiversity of the island. Scientific research has established that howler monkeys often act as seed dispersers and therefore, these primates promote the regeneration of forests (Estrada and Coates-Estrada, 1984). It is vital that at a young age children learn the connections among the forests and the animals that inhabit them. Educating Nicaraguan students on the importance of biodiversity conservation is the only way to encourage them to reverse the cycle of habitat destruction and wildlife pet trade in their own communities.

In sum, the Fundación Ometepe wishes to further its goals of preserving the biodiversity of our island by educating the citizens who will have the most important impact on the future of Ometepe wildlife: the children. In order to carry out the planned conservation education curriculum, we need to have basic equipment for the children to observe the wildlife around them. The binoculars and laptop computers we are requesting from Idea Wild will enable us to educate the children on the importance of the biodiversity in their own communities, and the existing internet technology will allow the children to communicate this information with other students around the world. The equipment requested will be used for ongoing projects that can be duplicated and reused for the duration of the life of the equipment. The Fundación Ometepe will take responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of the laptops. Projects like these, which directly involve the people living in the communities, have the most crucial impact on biodiversity preservation.

Reference Cited
ESTRADA, A. & COATES-ESTRADA, R., 1984, Fruit-eating and seed dispersal by howling monkeys (Alouatta palliata) in the tropical rain forest of Los Tuxtlas, Mexico. Amer. J. Primatol., 6: 77-91.

Laptop Computers - ASUS Eee PC 900 16G (8.9")
3each at $312.89 to $938.67
Can be purchased from Amazon

Eagle Optics 8x42 Ranger SRT Binoculars
1 each, at $299.99 to $299.00

Total amount requested: $1237.67

Several different groups from the United States visit Fundación Ometepe every year to do volunteer work and projects. In June 2009, a group from Cartage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin will be doing a medical mission on the island. The contact information for the organizer is listed below. The requested equipment can be sent to him and he can bring it to the Fundación Ometepe.